One of my favourite art organisations in London is the Camden Arts Centre. The reason is quite simple: they are not mainstream, and they always take risks. While many famous art institutions like the Royal Academy of Art and the Tate rely heavily on big names and blockbuster shows, Camden Arts Centre is like a breath of fresh air. The artists that exhibit there are often overlooked by other institutions, but I have yet to encounter a disappointing exhibition there.
I came across Hong Kong artist Wong Ping‘s animations around a year ago in Hong Kong, and was captivated by the bold graphics and dark humour. It came as a surprise when I learned that he would be having a solo exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre, since he is hardly a conventional artist.
It turns out that Wong Ping is the inaugural recipient of Camden Art Centre’s new Emerging Artist Prize at Frieze (2018). The Prize was established in collaboration with Frieze Art Fair to nurture and celebrate the most innovative artists of the moment, who have yet to receive the recognition their work deserves. Hence, the exhibition was included as part of the prize awards.
After receiving his BA degree in multimedia design from Curtin University in Perth, Australia, in 2005, Wong Ping returned to Hong Kong and worked in TV post-production on cheesy dramas. Bored of his day job, he started making animations at home and posted them on his blog in 2010. The aesthetics of his technicolour and distinct animations recall the styles and colour palettes of the Memphis Group and 1980s video games. Yet this visual language is naive, eye-catching and unique. Interestingly, this childlike and gleeful aesthetic do not match the twisted, dark, and absurd contents. Sex, politics, family issues and social conflicts are the common themes featured in his animations. He is a keen observer and a fierce critic of our dystopian age.
The ‘Heart digger’ exhibition runs across two venues, with an off-site temporary space at Cork Street in Central London. At both sites, there are oversized inflatable animals (giraffe and rabbit) and screens showing his explicit and amusing animations.
This timely exhibition coincides with the Hong Kong protests that started in June (and still on going). At the Camden venue, a heart-shaped grave has been dug in the back garden from which emerge segments of a giant dismembered inflatable giraffe. In a statement at the exhibition, he mocked Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and officials saying that they have buried part of the giraffe’s neck in the backyard so that they could use the giraffe’s neck as a tunnel to escape from Hong Kong. Therefore he cut off the section of the giraffe’s neck in which the officials were hiding, and hid it in storage on Cork Street.
At the Cork Street space, two of his recent works – Fables 1 (2018) and Fables 2 (2019) – are shown. They are part of an ongoing ‘morality tale’ series that feature different animals such as a convicted capitalist cow, a nun elephant, and a three-headed homicidal rabbit (which is also an inflatable installation).
Perhaps Wong Ping‘s work is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he is an important voice during this political crisis in Hong Kong today. As a pro-democracy activist, he uses his art to raise awareness and spread political messages to an international audience. Nobody knows what the future may hold for Hong Kong, but it is often during these unsettling times that the finest art would emerge. My wish is that ultimately these art works would connect and help to heal the wounds of the people in Hong Kong.
Wong Ping: Heart Digger exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre will end on 15th September.